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America’s Stolen Guns: A Silent Contributor to Gun Crimes in the U.S. (2023)

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Report Highlights
  • 1,074,022 firearms were reported stolen in the U.S. from 2017-2021
  • Only 1.3% of criminals used a firearm that was purchased from an FFL during the commission of a crime, based on a 2016 survey
  • 89% of inmates reported that they possessed a firearm during the commission of a crime that was not obtained at a retailer (FFL Dealer)
  • 56% of inmates arrested with a firearm at the time of their crimes stated they had stolen it
  • 11% of crime guns recovered in 2021 were purchased within 90 days, while 46% were purchased more than 36 months prior to the crime
  • Firearm thefts from vehicles have risen more than 25% over the past decade
  • Southern states report more stolen guns than other regions of the U.S.

America’s Stolen Guns - Report Highlights

How Many Guns Are Stolen Each Year?

Stolen firearms are challenging to track and even more challenging to recover. However, many law enforcement agencies report stolen firearms to the ATF.

Firearms are more likely to be stolen from private owners than FFL dealers or while in transit (from the manufacturer to the dealer, for example).

Number of Stolen from Private Owners

  • 2021 – 201,731
  • 2020 – 208,799
  • 2019 – 192,151
  • 2018 – 201,979
  • 2017 – 221,898

Number of Stolen from FFL Dealers

  • 2021 – 2,967
  • 2020 – 6,058
  • 2019 – 4,512
  • 2018 – 5,636
  • 2017 – 7,869

Number of Stolen in Transit (UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc.)

  • 2021 – 5,378
  • 2020 – 2,814
  • 2019 – 1,400
  • 2018 – 1,714
  • 2017 – 1,839

Note: Due to existing transportation laws, firearms stolen in transit are typically being shipped from a manufacturer to an FFL dealer.

How Many Stolen Guns Are Used in Crimes?

Criminals in the U.S. are more likely to purchase a pistol from an underground market than any other source or firearm type. In addition, state inmates with firearms were more likely to use them than federal inmates.

What Percentage of Guns Used By Criminals Were Stolen?

It is estimated that 10% of stolen guns are actually used in crimes. The basis for this number is that criminals can access firearms faster by purchasing them off the street or from an underground market.

  • 5% of state inmates in possession of a gun used it during the commission of their crimes
  • 2% of inmates report purchasing a firearm from an underground market
  • 20% of inmates reportedly obtained a firearm solely for the purpose of committing a crime
  • 9% of firearms used during the commission of a crime were not purchased via FFL dealers
  • 8% of firearms used in crimes were purchased at gun shows
  • 3% of inmates used a firearm that they purchased from a retail source

What Percentage of Stolen Guns Were Used in Crimes?

Although we can’t be sure how many stolen guns were used in crimes, we can investigate how many criminals actually used a firearm they were in possession of during their crimes.

  • 6% of inmates fired shots during the commission of their crimes
  • 1% killed someone
  • 4% injured a victim
  • 7% of inmates discharged a firearm but did not injure anyone
  • 5% of state inmates did not discharge a firearm while in possession of it

Stolen Guns and Homicide Trends in the U.S.

Homicides in the U.S. increased year over year (2017-2021) despite declines and increases in the number of guns stolen.

Gun Crimes & Thefts 2017-2021

What Crimes Are Associated with Stolen Guns?

While the ATF and Attorney General Merrick Garland focus on reducing illegal straw purchases, the data shows that the vast majority of firearms are sold long before they’re recovered as crime guns.

Only 11% of firearms traced by the ATF in 2021 were used in a crime within the first 90 days of purchase. Meanwhile, more than 46% of crime guns had a time to crime of more than 36 months. It would appear that firearms are not being purchased via legal means by purchasers intent on committing crimes.

In 2021, 12,192 firearms were sourced in homicides, and 31,605 were used in dangerous drug-related offenses. 106,524 were recovered under the Possession of a Weapon category.

Gun Crimes Statistic

Note: The statistics reflect firearms recovered by the ATF and may include firearms that were purchased legally or illegally as well.

Most Stolen Firearms By Type

9mm pistols are the most common firearm stolen in the U.S. These pistols are also the most common firearm type used in homicides.

Firearms Stolen by Type 2017-2021

Stolen Gun Statistics

Police departments nationally have implemented a 9 pm Routine to broadcast reminders every evening at 9 pm to ensure homeowners are securing valuables, including firearms. While the jury is still out on whether these actually impact stolen guns, civilian-owned firearms are most likely to be stolen from vehicles and homes.

How Many Guns Are Stolen from Cars Each Year?

The vast majority of firearms stolen from private citizens are pistols left in cars. Cities in Tennessee and South Carolina have experienced the highest number of firearms reported stolen from vehicles in recent years.

Guns Stolen in Cars Fast Facts:

  • 80% of firearms stolen in Nashville, TN, were stolen from vehicles (1,014) – 2023
  • 2,441 firearms stolen from vehicles in 2022 Shelby County, TN
  • Hamilton County, TN, has been issuing warnings for years due to the increase in firearms stolen from unlocked vehicles
  • ⅓ of firearms stolen in Columbia, SC, were reportedly taken from unlocked vehicles

How Many Stolen Guns from Homes or Cars in Each State?

Many states do not require citizens to report stolen guns to law enforcement. Furthermore, we rely heavily on police jurisdictions to report how many guns were stolen from cars and homes in the U.S.

However, the states with the highest number of stolen guns reported do not have laws requiring individuals to file a report when a firearm is stolen.

Gun Theft by Home State

How Often Are Stolen Guns Recovered?

Unfortunately, recovering stolen firearms tends to be a daunting task for local and federal law enforcement agencies. Guns stolen from private citizens are the least likely to be recovered in a timely manner.

How Many Total Stolen Guns Are Recovered

316,907 stolen guns were recovered by law enforcement agencies nationwide between 2017-2021. 57.1% of firearms stolen in transit were recovered within 90 days of the incident, while only 45% of guns stolen from FFL dealers were recovered within 90 days.

  • 296,787 Recovered stolen from private citizens
  • 17,048 Recovered in cases of FFL Thefts
  • 3,072 Recovered from Interstate Thefts

How Many Stolen Guns Are Recovered in the Home State?

Excluding interstate and FFL thefts, 92% of stolen guns that were recovered between 2017 and 2021 were recovered in the state from which they were stolen.

Recovered Guns by State

FAQs What If My Gun Is Stolen and Used in a Crime?

State laws vary, but many DAs can prosecute victims of firearm theft under various statutes. It’s important to keep track of your firearm’s serial numbers and report theft to local law enforcement. Furthermore, evidence supports that leaving guns in cars greatly increases the likelihood they will be stolen.

How do I know if a gun is stolen?

There are many third-party websites that claim to allow users to run serial numbers. However, the only guaranteed way to ensure you’re purchasing a firearm that isn’t stolen is through law enforcement.


America’s Stolen Guns: A Silent Contributor to Gun Crimes in the U.S. (2023) originally appeared in The Resistance Library at


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